Thursday, May 08, 2008

Split at the Font

The Catholic Controversy of the Week (well, the most-prominent one) involves what you see above.

That's a Mormon baptismal font, and in a move that sent the religion beat into overdrive -- and threatened to put a damper on the tip-top relations that just saw two top leaders of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints attend an ecumenical prayer gathering with the Pope for the first time -- an early April letter from the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy urged the global church to withhold parish registers from LDS, citing the Mormon practice of posthumous baptisms.

The story was first reported by CNS last week:
The order came in light of "grave reservations" expressed in a Jan. 29 letter from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the clergy congregation's letter said.

Father James Massa, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said the step was taken to prevent the Latter-day Saints from using records -- such as baptismal documentation -- to posthumously baptize by proxy the ancestors of church members.

Posthumous baptisms by proxy have been a common practice for the Latter-day Saints -- commonly known as Mormons -- for more than a century, allowing the church's faithful to have their ancestors baptized into their faith so they may be united in the afterlife, said Mike Otterson, a spokesman in the church's Salt Lake City headquarters.

In a telephone interview with CNS May 1, Otterson said he wanted a chance to review the contents of the letter before commenting on how it will affect the Mormons' relationship with the Catholic Church.

"This dicastery is bringing this matter to the attention of the various conferences of bishops," the letter reads. "The congregation requests that the conference notifies each diocesan bishop in order to ensure that such a detrimental practice is not permitted in his territory, due to the confidentiality of the faithful and so as not to cooperate with the erroneous practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."...

Father Massa said he could see how the policy stated in the letter could strain relations between the Catholic Church and the Latter-day Saints.

"It certainly has that potential," he said. "But I would also say that the purpose of interreligious dialogue is not to only identify agreements, but also to understand our differences. As Catholics, we have to make very clear to them their practice of so-called rebaptism is unacceptable from the standpoint of Catholic truth."
While the LDS leadership has refrained from public comment on the letter -- which it was supposed to receive on Monday -- in an effort to contain the damage in the Mormon home-base, where Catholics and LDS have long enjoyed exemplary ties, Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City took to the local airwaves earlier today:
“I do think it’s important for people not to jump to conclusions,” said Bishop Wester. “It’s simply reminding us that our sacramental records are supposed to be preserved, taken care of and that they’re supposed to be kept confidential.”...

2NEWS’ Brian Mullahy asked Bishop Wester how he reconciles his words with the words of Father Massa.

“I understand what Father Massa is saying,” said Bishop Wester. “What he says is true, the Catholic and LDS Churches have two distinct theologies of baptism. We know that. We’ve always known that.”

The LDS practice of baptisms for the dead has also been condemned by Jewish groups who say that names of Holocaust victims are still in LDS genealogical database for unwelcome baptisms.

Like Jewish leaders in past, Bishop Wester met with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for a respectful conversation.

Bishop Wester says he wants to make sure that it is understood that the Vatican letter is not an attack on the LDS church and despite doctrinal differences; the two faiths can still live together peacefully, without straining relationships.

“Even though we have different theologies, we have found many ways to work together, we respect each other, we acknowledge the values we hold in common. That hasn’t changed,” said Bishop Wester.
While the rite of posthumous baptism is commonly understood to extend only to the non-LDS ancestors of Mormons, reports last year indicated that Pope John Paul II was just one of a list of notable names baptized that also included Hitler, Chairman Mao and Mickey Mouse.

Wait -- Mickey Mouse is dead?